Care workers undervalued

Yes, it is too bad Red Deer College felt it best to discontinue its disability and community studies program after the current class graduates.

Yes, it is too bad Red Deer College felt it best to discontinue its disability and community studies program after the current class graduates.

The two-year program trains students to be rehab workers for disabled people.

If your family has a member with a severe disability, who needs care to live at home, these are the people to call.

Demand for rehab workers does not cycle through business booms and busts.

There are always people who need help, so a trained care worker will seldom be short of clients. But the pay and workplace demands of a career in community rehab are so poor, even a gifted worker with a wonderful heart for the job is probably better off, career-wise, waiting tables or being a sales clerk at a department store.

The training involved costs a lot less.

So you can fault neither the student population nor Red Deer College that college-level training for these underpaid but necessary workers has been dropped in our region.

In the same way trained child care workers were undervalued almost to the point of extinction a decade or so ago, care workers for the disabled are likewise undervalued.

It wasn’t a crisis of child care on its own that eventually prodded government action allowing child care workers to be better paid — or for the salaries offered to even remotely reflect the training required to do the job. Government simply needed more parents out in the work force.

Society couldn’t wait for the youngest child in every family to reach school age, before both parents could get on with working full time and paying taxes.

When it became evident this would be impossible without access to reliable child care at a reasonable cost, support programs got more tax money.

Most, if not all, severely disabled people are already on a government-paid support program — or perhaps more than one. There is a this-much-and-no-more mentality on the cost of care for disabled people that means a person with two years of college training will probably only earn about $15 an hour.

Nor can the caregiver even expect full-time employment or job benefits. Most work is part time, on contract, with no benefits and scant opportunity to supplement income with other work.

That sort of honey doesn’t attract very many worker bees. Therefore, the care workforce is generally poorly trained, with high levels of turnover resulting in a revolving door of people entering and leaving the field. Client families do the best they can, which is often to hire foreign untrained care workers, who sometimes are not even conversant in English.

Ed Riediger is chair of the provincial workforce council, which is under the umbrella of the Alberta Council of Disability Services, and has worked towards having a stable and professional workforce to support people with disabilities.

He summed the situation up by saying the real fix is similar to the fix government made for child care: more money.

If government agreed that community rehab should pay a living wage (which it doesn’t), then professional salaries would compensate proper training and professional work.

And Red Deer College would have this career path on its calendar of studies.

As it is now, not too many people care if a disabled person can make the most out of life. Too bad.

What are we going to do when the government decides nursing home beds are a costly extravagance, and more people just ought to live at home?

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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